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Don’t be foiled by aluminium packaging

23 May 2014

The increasing popularity of foil in packaging can present new challenges in relation to food inspection equipment. Food Processing finds out how x-ray detection is able to address these challenges.

Recent market research on the packaging industry valued the European converted flexible packaging market at £12.1 billion in 2012, with a reported growth in consumption of 2.1%. 
One area that is expected to show huge growth in the next decade is aluminium foil packaging – around 75% of which will be for applications in food. The European Aluminium Foil Association’s 2013 report indicated that consumption of aluminium foil in food applications is experiencing stronger gains than the overall flexible packaging market.
This growth can be attributed to the fact that aluminium foil delivers prolonged shelf life to valuable foodstuffs, because it provides a barrier against air and light. Foil can also have a bright or metallic finish, and can be lacquered, printed or embossed. The ability to add high-end graphics can make the packing more appealing to consumers. Plus, when a metallic finish is used, consumers will often perceive it to be a premium quality brand. Aluminium is also light in weight and is more compact compared to rigid packaging. As a result, products take up less warehouse storage and retail space. Further, because more products can be loaded onto transportation vehicles, it can also help to cut carbon emissions in the distribution supply chain.
Putting the growth of foil into context, Neil Farmer, independent consultant and spokesperson for the packaging sector, said: “The use of glass packaging is beginning to level off, with European growth at less than 2%, compared with flexible packaging at 4%.” Farmer also noted that there is a marked reduction in the number of flexible packaging layers being used. “This is not just because of packaging reduction initiatives by many leading fast-moving consumer goods producers, but also because of improved barrier performance and developments in barrier resins and materials.” One example is the introduction of styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN), which is helping to combat the issue of foil fracturing caused by creases.
Farmer continued: "Generally, consumers want packaging that keeps products in good condition. For foodstuffs, they want products that are fresh and ready to be eaten. Ultimately, they seek longer shelf life, product security and value for money.”
Considering future requirements
Given the wider choice of new design concepts – incorporating pouches, films and laminate foils – manufacturers need to carefully consider their future inspection requirements. Many have successfully Been using metal detection systems for many years to ensure that products are free of metal contaminants. Loma Systems says that alongside the growing use of foil in food packaging it is seeing a clear migration towards the use of x-ray systems to ensure food safety remains of the highest standard.  

“For retailers and consumers, food safety is of upmost importance,” said Tony Bryant, UK sales manager at Loma Systems. “This is when x-ray detection systems come into their own. Generally speaking, metal-based packaging is not always compatible with metal detectors. X-ray systems, however, have no problem seeing right through these packages and are able to detect very small contaminants inside, ranging from metal fragments, glass, stones, bone and ceramic. They are also suited to use by food producers who may need to handle a variety of different packaging.”
Contaminants aside, another benefit of x-ray detection is its ability to spot missing products, imperfections or low fills.  An x-ray system will be able to literally see inside the container of a ready meal or box of chocolates, alerting operators if product is missing or broken. 

Food producers and packers face all types of operational risks, and their ability to demonstrate due diligence to retailers and consumers in relation to contaminant detection remains paramount. There are many viable detection systems on the market today, but requirements will vary depending on individual risks. So it is worth considering whether your inspection equipment is able to meet your changing packaging needs. 

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